In some areas, schools are already in session. In others, families are anticipating sending their kids back to school in the coming weeks. But this fall, school will look nothing like it ever has in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some schools have completely reopened, while others have split students into cohorts who will attend in person three to four days each week. Some institutions, including colleges and universities, are fully closed, requiring full-time virtual learning at home.
Regardless of what your district is doing, school will be very different this year—and for the foreseeable future. Social interaction will be limited, with desks spaced six feet apart or more and separated by acrylic glass. In some areas, students older than two are required to wear masks at all times, except when eating. In districts that have gone fully virtual, students may not meet their teachers in person before online classes begin. To say this year (at least the beginning of it) will be unusual is an understatement.
Young people are resilient, and they’ll get through this time with the proper support at home. But what does that look like? It’s difficult to know what to do as parents when all of this is so new to us. The good news, however, is that you’re not helpless here. Check out some back-to-school tips to make this year successful, positive, and fun.
Back to School in the “New Normal”
If your children’s school is reopening, it’s unlikely to look like the one they remember from before quarantine began. In many areas, students will be required to wear masks for the entire day, as will their teachers. Instead of moving from class to class, students will remain in one classroom and will eat lunch at their desks. They’ll be seated six feet apart or more and will be required to socially distance as much as possible. While they’ll be in class with friends, students won’t be able to hug, high-five, or trade snacks the way they’re used to. And in some schools, they may have their temperatures taken on a regular basis. How can you prepare your kids to succeed in such a dramatically different learning environment?
- Have younger children practice putting on and wearing their masks before school begins. It’s easier to do when you’ve had time to acclimate to it.
- Find comfortable masks in fun colors or prints. Be sure to label them with your child’s name. Waterproof clothing labels make it easy.
- Practice effective hand-washing, and coughing and sneezing into the elbow at home.
- Explain what school will look like this year. Review social distancing guidelines, and remind your child that these rules are for everyone’s health and safety.
- Review your school’s COVID-19 policies and procedures so that you’re familiar with your responsibilities as a parent, like performing daily temperature checks.
You can check out more tips for sending your children back to school from the CDC.
Effective Learning at Home
This fall, many students will need to continue the distance learning most districts implemented back in March. Some will participate in part-time remote learning as part of a hybrid school schedule. Others will study full-time at home, whether via their school’s virtual learning programs or through independent homeschooling. It’s an effective way to contain the spread of COVID-19 and to protect immunocompromised students and their families, but it’s not ideal. Class meetings on Zoom or other chat software are no substitute for in-class learning, and students will miss friends and teachers. And, with limited social interaction, students of all ages can feel lonely and isolated. How can parents best support them while they’re learning remotely?
- Create a quiet space free of distractions where your child can participate in class meetings, complete assignments, and study.
- Help younger children to stay on top of their schoolwork by reviewing assignments together and keeping in touch with teachers.
- Plan and commit to a regular routine on school days. Encourage your child to get up on time and to eat breakfast and get dressed before online class begins.
- Help your child find ways to be active each day, as they would be doing in gym class or at recess. It’s more important than ever to blow off some steam and stay physically healthy.
- Stay in touch with school administration so that you’re fully aware of any changes to learning plans. Some schools will allow students to begin the year remotely and return to the classroom later on. Keep up to date on what’s best and safest for the kids.
The CDC has additional advice for virtual learning this fall.
Support for Kids Facing Social Challenges
Whether your child is returning to school or continuing to learn remotely, social interaction will be extremely limited. Help them to cope with loneliness, anxiety, and the other COVID-19 emotions we’ve experienced by providing strong support at home.
- Talk often with your child about how school is going, keeping an ear open for any concerns. Family dinner at home is a great time to check-in.
- Make sure your child knows you are always available to listen. Explain why communication is important, and emphasize that you are there to help.
- Find safe ways for your child to stay in touch with friends. It might be a weekly Zoom date or a socially distanced outdoor playdate.
- Think of fun things to do at home together as a family. Your child will enjoy some distraction, laughter, and stress relief.
- Keep in touch with the parents of your child’s friends. These families are going through the same things you are, and they may have helpful advice for you.
We can’t be sure when all this will end. Experts have proposed that rapid-response testing and widespread vaccination could help to end the pandemic. But since it’ll be several more months (at least) before those technologies are available, we can only do our best for now. Know that providing your children with love, encouragement, and support will make this unusual school year a success. Just keep reminding them (and yourself) that there are brighter days ahead for all of us.